Stanislaus County saw its first dip in the unemployment rate since September, thanks to the seasonal upswing in hiring each April.
The county jobless rate dropped to 18.3 percent last month, nearly a percentage point down from March, according to data released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.
"Outside of the seasonal swing, we're basically moving sideways," said Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific. "That's a lot better than free fall, as we've been experiencing. But we have yet to see any strong job growth."
That lack in growth is nothing new to job seekers who have been looking for the past weeks, months and sometimes years with little success in a tight market.
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Modesto resident Deborah Metoyer was laid off from her job as an administrative assistant for a financial adviser in March. The 32-year-old said there is so much competition for jobs in her field that she gets discouraged some days.
"I feel like I'd be good at these jobs if I could just get my foot in the door," she
said while attending an EDD job fair in Modesto last week. "I just keep getting my résumé out there as much as I can and something has to happen. It's a numbers game."
In Stanislaus County, despite the slight drop in unemployment, those numbers remain daunting. Metoyer is among 43,500 unemployed across the county.
The surrounding counties saw similar seasonal declines in their jobless rate. San Joaquin County dropped to 17.7 percent and Merced to 19.9, the first time that county has been below 20 percent since December.
In the foothills, Tuolumne, Calaveras and Mariposa counties were down, the former two about 1 percentage point and the latter almost 2.5 percentage points.
"(The counties') decline is about normal for this time of year," said Pedro Vargas, an EDD labor market consultant. "One of the things that was significant, but normal for right now, was the high increase in farm jobs."
Ag kicks into gear
Farming jobs grew as agriculture kicked into gear across the region. Also benefiting from the warmer weather was leisure and hospitality work, which gained 300 jobs in Stanislaus County as the vacation season started up.
In the coming months, seasonal gains also are expected to come to manufacturing, construction and retail. But those could be offset as government agencies and school districts cut staffs to help balance shrinking budgets.
Statewide, the unemployment rate held steady in April at 12.6 percent, despite an increase in national unemployment. Since Jan. 1, the state has added more than 56,000 new jobs. Still, about 2.3 million Californians remain unemployed.
National unemployment figures rose from 9.7 percent to 9.9 percent in April.
Michael said California's unemployment rate remains in a holding pattern, but he expects to see significant job growth statewide in the next two months. Job growth will continue to lag in the valley though, he said.
"We're waiting for the uptick," he said. "I think it's going to be here very soon. Then we can slowly start to chip away at this unemployment rate."
It's a sentiment shared by some job seekers, despite the continued long odds. Michael Reed of Turlock has been looking for work for the last year and a half.
The former architectural drafter has run out of his four unemployment benefit extensions. While he said finding work has been tough, the 60-year-old won't give up.
"It seems like things are sort of changing a little for the better," he said. "I'm hopeful."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2284.